Out of nowhere, my mom started crying profusely. I assumed
her current boyfriend, who had cancer, had passed away. I held her to console
her. Nothing could have prepared for me for what came next. It turned out it
was my father who had died. Suddenly. He was 39. He seemed to be in relatively
good health, but he was found dead on his couch.
My first reaction was shock. I went completely numb for several
months, I didn’t shed a tear or feel a single real emotion.
Of course, I couldn’t bottle up my emotions forever. One
day, while I was playing drums, I started to feel a strange sensation of
numbness in my left arm.
I shrugged it off and returned to my playing. But more
symptoms came. I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded. I felt like the world was
collapsing around me – something terrible was about to happen.
It dawned on me that numbness in the left arm is a warning
sign for a heart attack. My other symptoms were so intense that I started to
wonder if I was about to lose my life, just like my father did.
It didn’t make any sense. I was 18, in good health, and I
had no reason to believe I could possibly have a heart attack.
But I couldn’t deny the nightmarish feelings going through
my body and mind. I dropped my drumsticks and walked towards my computer. As I did
so, my dizziness became so intense that I needed to hold the wall for balance.
I thought at any second, I might pass out – and never wake up.
I looked up my symptoms, and sure enough, I had all the
symptoms of a heart attack.
-Chest pain or discomfort. Check.
-Shortness of breath. Check.
-Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness. Check.
-Rapid or irregular heartbeats. Check.
-Sense of impending doom. Check.
My panic escalated. I was so certain my life was ending
that I ended up in an emergency room. I got numerous tests and strangely, they
all came back negative. My EKG was fine, my bloodwork was fine, my vitals were
fine. Everything was… fine.
But it wasn’t fine. I had my first panic attack. Imagine
how you would feel if you dove underwater, but before you came up, you felt a
hand holding you down. You would try to come up for air, but no matter what you
did, you’re still being held underwater.
That’s roughly what a panic attack feels like.
After my first panic attack, I developed panic disorder.
This led me to try a variety of medications, see several therapists, a
psychiatrist, and read numerous self-improvement books about anxiety.
None of it cured me, some things helped, but not enough to
start enjoying life again.
For a couple years, my life was mostly defined by my
anxiety. I was living in a waking nightmare, fixated on my fear that I would suddenly
The little energy I had went towards finding a way to get
better. I was willing to do anything to overcome this constant and unnecessary
I took up exercise, read countless books, started studying psychology, and became obsessed with self-improvement. I did all this because
of my anxiety. Because the shock of my father’s death completely broke down my emotional
Over the course of many years, my effort paid off. I
became a different person. Whereas before I was passive and meek, I had become
assertive and courageous. Whereas before I let the opinions of others define
me, I became my own man.
The death of my father, although horrible, was also a
blessing in a very real way. It made my pain so severe that I could no longer
Before my father died, I was anxious, I was unhappy, and I
was not living up to my own expectations; but my pain was in the background. It
was there, but it wasn’t so intense that it consumed me. It wasn’t overwhelming
enough that I felt compelled to make a change.
The death of my father was the worst thing that ever
happened to me, and it was also the best thing that ever happened to me. It
taught me to take responsibility for my life, because I finally realized I had
no other choice.